[PRO] Death penalty has its place

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[PRO] Death penalty has its place


Should we enforce capital punishment?

*A surge of brutal murders and rapes has reignited the debate on capital punishment. To rein in monstrous crimes, calls are growing for the reinstatement of the death penalty, while others still think it violates the most basic human right. Minister of Justice Kwon Jae-jin said the government will open a serious discussion of the issue.

We return to the institution of capital punishment as a countermeasure to rein in brutal crimes whenever serial or random killings and child rapes dominate the news. The death penalty is the most extreme punishment a human society can impose on a criminal. The issue is hotly debated because even as a Korean court can hand down a death sentence, the punishment has not been applied. Critics say Korea’s capital punishment carries no weight because it is not actually practiced.

The Constitution mentions capital punishment in the fourth provision of Article 110 on military courts. “Under an emergency state, a military tribunal cannot rule a death sentence in single trial.” In criminal law, the death penalty is included among types of punishments. Other special laws on criminal cases also cite death as the maximum penalty.

The courts give death sentences to monstrous criminals guilty of intolerable offenses, but applications have been absent for the last 15 years. Amnesty International lists Korea as a country that has “virtually abolished capital punishment.” About 60 convicts are on death row, but the judiciary cannot easily carry out executions. At the same time, it cannot decide to abolish the system altogether.

Motions to ban the death penalty have been referred to the National Assembly since more than a decade ago but were discarded every time after sparking temporary debates. The Constitutional Court reviewed the legality of capital punishment twice but ruled both times that the death penalty does not violate the Constitution. Unlike in the first case, the second ruling was evenly divided - five votes to four - allowing more room for the debate. Some thought that the decision that ruled in favor of the death penalty actually was closer to tilting toward unconstitutionality and abolishing it.

But since the death penalty is in the Constitution, its legality remains intact. Discarding the system could undermine the country’s constitutional order. In order to abolish capital punishment, the wording first must be removed from the Constitution.

The death penalty has lasted through the history of civilization. Executions were performed to remove dangerous offenders and multiple killers, helping to defend national and community order. They also served as deterrents to serious crimes.

Its retribution can avenge a murderous or brutal act and mitigate the pain caused to families. It can also help to fend off individuals taking justice into their own hands. The death penalty makes criminals pay for outrageous actions and defends justice in a civilization.

Criminals, too, have the right to life and human dignity. But they cannot expect to be treated well when they disregard the lives of others. The law does not exist to protect the lives of those who brutally harm and kill others. The Constitutional Court also stipulates that the natural right to life also falls under legal scrutiny and exceptions must be applied to those who take the lives of others.

A society is not judged as a mature, human-rights state or advanced country depending on whether it has capital punishment or not. Germany and other European countries abolished death sentences and executions as contrition for genocides and killings that took place throughout their histories. The United States and Japan still retain the system.

Capital punishment is a symbolic retribution demonstrating that brutal and violent crimes cannot be tolerated in civilized society. With serial murders and child crimes rampant, we need the death penalty to guard the lives of innocent people and society’s safety.

Capital punishment therefore needs to be preserved to serve in exceptional cases and to uphold constitutional value and order.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a law professor of Dongguk University.
By Kim Sang-kyum
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